Sunday, March 2, 2014

Faith versus obedience


I don't honor any god who just orders a father to kill an innocent child without giving a comprehensible rationale for its value that can be confirmed by conscience before expecting the act. A god who expects such blind obedience is a devil. And isn't a father who unquestioningly follows also on the dark side?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I Think I'm Infected but Not in a Good Way

BLACKOUT by Robison Wells reminds me of this old joke.

There are two dyslexics working in a kitchen. One says, "Can you smell gas?" And the other says, "I can't even smell my own name." (Remember, it's just a witticism, a spoonerism, if you will. Not necessarily derogatory.)

BLACKOUT was an entertaining read, fast-paced, intriguing. I guess you could say engaging. I was engaged, then… Well, I think you'll like those characteristics. I haven't read its predecessor if there is one. But after reading it, I feel like one of those kitchen workers. Nonetheless, I don't have dyslexia. There just wasn't enough narrative explanation for my tastes. Maybe if there are successor volumes, I could be more satisfied. But that's speculative.


Perhaps I have the worldwide virus that's a premise to what happens in the novel. I finished the whole book, but I didn't learn sufficient information about that virus. Or about the motivation of both the mentioned and unmentioned antagonists in this work. There was not nearly enough knowledge and development for my tastes, other than the virus is totally weird, inexplicably so, and creative. One thing I did learn about the virus was the fact that it only infected youth --- teenagers --- and it made them super- or sub-human. Superpowers.

(So, because I'm old, I don't have "that" virus. Whew! Something's infected me, though. I hope it can be treated.)

In BLACKOUT the primary players on the dark side, who, of course, are all infected, include Alec, Laura, and Dan. And on the side of light --- after all, they're probably Saints, since they're from central Utah --- are Aubrey and Jack. Or, perhaps, that should be "on the light side" --- ha ha. At least, I think that's right, but recall that I might be infected (although not with "the" virus). The former trio serve as terrorists, utilizing their viral superpowers to wreak havoc. The nation's military ends up exploiting the later two heroes' superpowers to thwart the villains. These characters are all viewpoint characters, and they're not the only ones, as I recall. Character development suffered.

You see, this virus shows itself in varying ways, but never with the same symptoms in any two different individuals. It's unlike any other disease or virus known to mankind, at least in my experience. Or in my imagination. And its symptomatic manifestations are all over the place as far as superpowers or darkpowers for these teens go. The antagonists wreak havoc across the United States --- for what purpose is unclear --- and the protagonists are simply manipulated by their government without a satisfactory justification for my tastes in doing so.

Hence, as in all fantasy and/or pseudoscience fiction, such powers can be and are manipulated in a deus ex machina way. It's very, very convenient.

That's how I spell it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Old man review…

Old man review. Read at your own risk.

As you get older, the illusion is that time goes by faster. The theory, I think, is that the segment that is passing --- the hour, day, or week --- is a smaller and smaller fraction of the hours, days, etc. that you have lived. Your time is being used up and you only have a smaller fraction of what you had. At the ripe old age of sixty-five, this dynamic has certainly kicked in for me.

Time seems to be passing by way too fast; I have too little of it left to assimilate everything that I need to or want to. I am like a computer you buy, utilize, fill up, and that eventually begins to be too full, inadequate in capacity and speed, freezing up, and crashing. Furthermore, keeping up with the pace of technology seems to have a similar dynamic: I can't keep up and at times I don't want to even try keeping up. Therefore, going into reading this book, SMARTER THAN YOU THINK: HOW TECHNOLOGY IS CHANGING OUR MINDS FOR THE BETTER, I thought that technology wasn't necessarily changing my mind for the better. I didn't have adequate time and, perhaps, the ability for it to do so. For example, I haven't adopted to cell phones and such e-devices as readily or as rapidly as many of my friends, neighbors and relatives, often to my detriment, but more often to my delight and my contemporaries' chagrin.

But I think Clive Thompson makes some astute observations and plausible explanations for why he believes technology changes our minds for the better. I, of course, enjoyed reading the various histories in the evolution of innovation that he tells about and about humankind's continuing reluctances through the years and now to accept change. I also enjoyed reading about new innovations, innovators, and conceptions of human intelligence, etc. What a delight! How overwhelming! I did enjoy the read, and as I perused and contemplated what I had read I did realize that I do incorporate innovation, even in old age, into my life to make things easier. For example, I'm utilizing voice dictation software in order to write this because it has become more and more painful and irritating to type things out because of arthritis.

I am not, however, convinced that we retain our learning longer than we used to. However, learning is much more accessible in our era than ever before and that is the dynamic that has been changing and seems to be continuing to change. I like it that I can have access to information now that I could never have access to so readily in earlier periods of my lifetime.

Some change, however, is quite scary. I think of the contemporary crises involving data collection by the NSA, for example. Doesn't it have a tendency to put into jeopardy all notions of privacy that we might have? Furthermore, without a clean and clear commitment of mind to the whole enterprise of technology, it is all for naught. People become addicted to mindlessness: playing perhaps entertaining games and watching and being stimulated by videos and whatnot in an addictive manner that doesn't necessarily improve the mind or the quality of living but wastes it away. So, the caveat is always it only works to better your mind if you apply yourself in a responsible way.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Doubt


For me, truth is a matter of the imagination, as Ursula Le Guin said, or rather as she imagined Genly Ai telling her that. (See the ~ 1976 Introduction to the rerelease of the 1969 award winning science fiction novel, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS.)
 
Truth is not the imagination, but the presence of truth always includes the imagination. In LDS scripture, we learn that truth is what happened, what's happening, what will happen. I know (or I imagine) that when I consider what happened, I use my imagination. I doubt that any person is and different than me in that regard. When I consider what will happen, I also use my imagination. I hesitate to think anyone else doesn't do that, too, although, perhaps, I could imagine it. When I consider what is happening, like me typing this out right now, trying to make sense, to select a rational order of words, etc., there is no doubt that I call on my imagination to deliver it contemporaneously.
 
"What if" is an element of the imagination; it is a feature of existence. It is not ever-present; it comes and goes. We don't like it continually present and work to eliminate it.
 
Fear is at the core of our being; essential to our very survival. It is also at the core of religion, of the LDS canon, and of other doctrines far and wide. It is a catalyst to action and to analysis and change. We use our imaginations to deal with fear.
 
Was that the sound of the cat knocking the toaster off the counter, a shutter bumping in the breeze, or a prowler? If the sound is fearful enough, we respond automatically --- fight or flight kicks in --- without analysis. Examination of what happened then comes later, and we use our imaginations to relive and evaluate the experience, to make changes, adaptations, etc. for good or for bad.
 
There is a time and a place to doubt just as there is a time to eat and sleep.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Talk

On the telephone, Brother Gearhart sounds to me like Jim Layton. And that's who I thought was calling on Pioneer Day. Jim Layton. Midday phone calls to your home number usually involve some kind of marketing effort, so I usually don't focus on them very well. And I'm old, poor of hearing, etc. Anyway, Jim Layton, I thought, was calling, perhaps to ask if Kiele and I'd like some corn. It's been commonplace for a very generous farmer Jim to do that throughout all the years that we've lived here about this time of year. But no, it wasn't a kind-hearted Jim calling; it was Brother Gearhart, not asking if we'd like corn but asking if I'd . . . if I'd feed you corn.  

Or did he say, don't be corny?

He said that his arranged-for speaker had had a conflict, so he needed to ask if I'd be 1 able to speak. "Me?" I wanted to say, but I didn't. I thought it. I was surprised. Perhaps, more shocked. Once I recovered, I said, "In sacrament meeting?"

"Yes," he said. He admitted that it was short notice and proceeded to say that the topic assigned to the person who'd had a conflict was "Redemption" based upon the April Conference talk of Elder Christofferson of the Qof12.

Hurry, now, you device users; hustle, get that talk up. Read it instead of listening. After all, Christofferson's an apostle; I've just been an aspiring apostate these past few days thinking about giving this talk.

Brother Gearhart said, "Since it's short notice, it'd be okay if you just wanted to pick a topic from your past week's scripture studies."

My past week's scripture studies? Seriously? I've been reading Holy Misogyny. I wanted to ask if I could just read a chapter from one 2 of my self-published novels. But I didn't. They weren't sacrament meeting material or from last week's scripture studies.

"Okay," I said, still in shock, not thinking straight. A bumper sticker says, "I don't suffer from insanity --- I enjoy every minute of it." Didn't the Brother realize that I hadn't written my four pages that I write weekly to take to a critiquing group. How could I prepare a talk, too? One I had to come up here to deliver? Anyway, once Brother Gearhart had my commitment, he mentioned I'd probably speak last, with a youth speaker and another speaker before me. That gave me hope. [look at the clock] [That's turned out bad/well.]

Immediately before Brother Michael called, I'd been contemplating Ursula Le Guin's introduction in a 1976 rerelease of her 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. That introduction is a kind of essay, premised on her protagonist's having 3 told her that truth is matter of the imagination. Not truth is imagination, but is a matter of the imagination. My dear wife, Shelley, and I, after reading that, whenever people talked of the truth of this or that, we'd look at each other knowingly, thinking truth is a matter of the imagination.

I'd also been reading and thinking about former Area Authority Hans Mattsson, the Seventy who'd apparently had heart surgery in 2005 and been released. He had begun learning about puzzling and problematic episodes in Church history on the internet. The NY Times had published an article. Elder Mattsson, who had devoted his life to Church leadership and service, hadn't known about some tough Church histories and a few creases in particular doctrines and teachings. He felt let down when he'd learned them, leading to a "crisis of faith" despite his prior spiritual experiences in serving the Church. 4

So in that context, on Pioneer Day, I committed to speak. It'd been a long time since I last had. . but not long enough. Given my travails, I couldn't help but think of handcart pioneers.

I looked up the word "redemption". The dictionary said it was the act of redeeming. So I looked up "redeem". Redeem is to compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something). It gave an example. "A disappointing debate was redeemed by an outstanding speech." I saw irony in that "speech" part. Over against the Elder Mattsson matter, an outstanding talk on redemption would be nice. Now, I thought, if I could just find somebody to write and deliver it.

When I grew up, they broadcast TV in black and white. Telephones were black too --- big, hulking, ugly devices, with wires, sometimes attached to a wall. No touch screens, no downloadable apps, no 5 texting. No internet. Operators helped make some connections. Back then, in ancient history, boys in our neighborhood gathered and redeemed used bottles, pop, beer, whatever. Glass bottles, not plastic or metal, as now. The amount you could redeem them for was a few pennies. Of course, then for two cents you could buy a small box of licorice Snaps and chew on them while old guys blathered in sacrament meeting. In gathering up bottles to redeem, the boys also saved the bottles from ending up broken and wasting away, cluttering the neighborhood or landfill. Those bottles could be washed reused, recycled.

Now a comedy . . . a fiction. Remember, it's an imaginary tale.

In fall at harvest time, a bishop visits a less active elder to invite him to sacrament meeting. The bishop finds Blaze at home busily bottling a new batch of fine peach brandy. They talk and visit and 6 even laugh together. Ultimately, Blaze says, "I'll come to block meetings, Bishop, if you'll taste some brandy and admit that you did so before the congregation in sacrament meeting." They converse more and the bishop finally agrees and sips the peach brandy.

In sacrament services the next Sunday, Blaze is, as promised, in attendance, sitting in the back, off to one side. Brother Blaze is awaiting the bishop's confession to the congregation of what the bishop had done. Once Blaze caught the bishop's eye at the podium, the bishop said, "I'm delighted that Brother Blaze is here with us this afternoon. I want to show my appreciation for him being here. I also want to say thanks to him for his warmth earlier this week, especially for the peaches he gave me and the spirit in which they were given.

Truth is a matter of the imagination.

OK. Redemption.

So, 7 Pioneer Day was Wednesday. I think of the heartbreaking ordeal of the Martin handcart company. It was devastating because it was human. The people were raring to go, so trusting that they put themselves into avoidable peril. They were real, struggling to cling to faith through doubts and hardships. There were heroes and scapegoats, good decisions and organization as well as poor planning and mistakes. From Crossing to Safety we read:

"There in a mass meeting they discussed the question raised by some of the more cautious elders: whether to push on through or go only so far as some good camping site along the Platte, perhaps Wood River just beyond Grand Island, and there hole up until spring. Taking part in the debate were several of the Iowa City agents, including W. H. Kimball and G. D. Grant, who had hurried on to the Missouri as soon as Iowa 8 City was cleaned out. Like many others present, they knew the trail and the uncertain fall weather of the mountains; like many others, they were intoxicated with zeal to prove the handcart plan sound…

"One voice, that of Levi Savage, was raised strongly on the other side. He said that such a mixed company would surely suffer greatly if it tried to cross the plains and mountains so late. With the best of luck it would be nearly the end of October before they could arrive, and the trailwise knew it could snow in the mountains a good two months before that. He would not risk it. But when they took a vote, he voted alone. The Lord, the others thought, would temper the wind to His lambs. Savage's response did him honor both as a Saint and as a man. He said, "Brethren and sisters, what I have said 9 I know to be true; but seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help you all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, will suffer with you, and if necessary I will die with you." It would not prove necessary that Savage die with them, not quite. But some of them would owe him their lives before they reached the valley, for he was one of the hardy and experienced who kept them going" (239-240).

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, "A pioneer is not someone who makes her own soap. She is one who takes up her burdens and walks toward the future." My dear wife, Shelley, always said we needed to go around the bend to see what's up the trail.

The typical focus among us doesn't want opposition or criticism. It supports a conclusion that none who survived that handcart journey 10 left the church. It neglects the very real suffering of those optimistic saints and refuses us a chance to learn good sense from their unquestioning lack of vigilance. We also lose thereby the individual, superlative faith of Levi Savage. And most disconcerting, a blemish-free account puts those pioneers, uniformly, in a category of super-heroes, depicting them as assured, sacred saints whose level of faith is eternally out of ordinary reach.

We need pioneers in vibrant shades of color, not all bleached white. Some petty, critical, not faithful. Not ideal, but fallible. They sincerely believed they were following a prophet of God and struggling to fulfill his commandments. Because of their failings, they're heroic, and we can relate and aspire to imitate them.

Crossing to Safety reads, "At a meeting of 107 missionaries about to go abroad in August, 1852 [4 years before Willie & Martin handcarts], Brigham Young decided to 10 announce publicly the doctrine of spiritual wives, and the announcement, together with the doctrinal justifications by Orson Pratt, was published in the Deseret News. Not even after this would missionaries discuss polygamy freely; they were instructed to say as little about it as possible, and it is likely that many a convert arrived in Salt Lake City in the later 1850s still persuaded that it was an ugly rumor perpetuated by the enemies of the Church. Nevertheless the admission was public, and could be corroborated in the newspapers, and it must have had something to do with the decline in number of conversions and the large number of apostasies during the '50's. And yet not so many apostasies and not such a decline in conversions as one might have expected" [Close quote.] (211-212).

Humankind is a family. We often bring that down to just the Church or the ward, but 11 we don't get to choose who's in the family of Heavenly Mother and Father. We all are, black and white, tall and short, sour and sweet. We could jolly well get along without some who make us uncomfortable, whose views turn our stomach, whose actions make our eyes flame. Such doesn't alter a bedrock relationship that exists: we are brothers and sisters. Family. I like to play the role of a bleeding heart where's-my-Mother-in-Heaven liberal pacifist while you might have snuck into sacrament a-pistol-packing I'd-follow-Abraham-and-sacrifice-my-boy-too hawk. Nonetheless, we are family, brothers, sisters, children of our Heavenly Parents. You don't have to listen to me. But you don't get to kick me out of the family, no matter what I do. That's what the redemption of my big brother, our big brother, Jesus Christ, is all about. We're related. We all need to be ransomed, to be set free.

Brokenness 12 is a part of the system. " The scripture says, "Even so, when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good." We're not whole; we need each other. Zion is an ideal community of one heart and one mind, with no poor. Zion is a matter of the imagination.

Myriad stories exist of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of repentance, of humility, and of redemption. A brother or a sister, a man or a woman whom we've pinned as a neighborhood tramp, a ward gossip, a patronizing bishop, a community muckety-muck, a shallow relief society president, or a disparaging brother sometimes reaches down to pick us up. They lift us up, old, empty, dirty glass bottles, which we resemble, to redeem us, to recognize our worth, to recycle us.

Does such come too infrequently? Almost certainly. We 13 often act and think cruelly, not kindly. But when redemption comes, it brings replenishing water to cleanse us inside and out so that we can be filled again. There's value in it, too, for the person who picks us up to recycle, just like those pennies to buy licorice Snaps. Such help sustains us for a while, but a degree of brokenness is a permanent feature of us and of our institutions, including the Church.

We are to redeem and to be redeemed. Both roles.

We are told that we can be cast down, thrown out, soiled and spoiled, and still get picked up and cleansed and filled.

We are also told to be picker-uppers, to reach down to brothers and sisters who've been figuratively emptied and cast away and to lift them up, to turn them in for recycling. It's hard work. If we do so, we then receive small 14 rewards.

[I think its the following part I had to leave out for time.] It's never enough, because it's the ongoing nature of mortality, immortality and eternal life. We know whose work and whose glory that is.

Every now and then, we all experience a grace visited upon us when we've been emptied out, someone reaching to us and helping us to go on a while longer.

Sometimes it's an act of God. I've heard others relate so. Tamara told how her father relied upon a garden to help feed his family. At the time of approaching storms, with hailstorms all around, her father gathered his family, including young Tamara, to bless the garden, which he did. Tamara said when the storm came, hail fell all around, everywhere but on their garden. Doug Cornaby said that he gave a blessing to a young boy and then heard, afterward, the boy tell his parent that the voice giving the blessing was not that of 15 Brother Cornaby.

More often, though, it's the astonishing love of others, acting often out of character, enlarging themselves in their weakness, inspired by something beyond yet within. That's when we see and experience the beauty and dignity of God.

Redemption and reconciliation are our responsibilities in the family of Heavenly Parents. As Elder Christofferson said, as Christ's disciples, we ought to do all we can to redeem others from suffering and burden, but our greatest service is to lead them to Christ.

Now, go home. Read Elder Christofferson's talk if you haven't done so while I've spoken. Go watch or read Les Misérables, especially up until Valjean completes his encounter with the Priest.
   

Have you seen the bumper sticker? Don't take my signals literally. Truth is a matter of the imagination. Imagine how wonderful it might be if we all helped with the work of redemption.

In Christ's name. Amen.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

On spiritual experiences or on miracles

I attended Sunday school today. Doug Roberts taught.

Before I forget, I want to record a couple of situations related by members of the class relative to blessings of the priesthood.

First, Tamara related how as a child her father relied upon a garden to help feed his family. At the time of an approaching storm, apparently when hailstorms were all around or were anticipated, her father gathered his family, including Tamara, to bless their garden, which he did. Tamara then said when the storm came the hail fell all around, everywhere but on the garden spot.

Doug Cornaby, the stake patriarch, said he gave a blessing to a young boy and then heard the boy telling his parent afterward that the voice that gave the blessing was not that of Doug Cornaby.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Studio Saint-Ex a well-done drawing, nicely stitched, and a drunken broth




Deft and daft. This book explores both realms, vigorously. It's a well-done drawing, nicely stitched, and a drunken broth. If you'll read it with such an mind, I think you'll see what I mean and like it very much.

As artists, this book's writer, Ania Szado, its protagonist, Ms. LaChapelle, and its romantic interest, Antoine, all excel in several respects. They are quick-witted and skillful in their realms; there is no question about that. However, they are also mad. They are crazy about achieving recognition and becoming or remaining 'established' as artistes. In essence, the book is about the intersection of art --- the human effort to imitate and supplement, or to alter or counteract, the work of the natural --- and of commerce --- the buying and selling of goods, including, but not exclusively, of sexual intercourse.

Who would argue with the characterization of STUDIO SAINT-EX as a romance? Not me. After all, it's about the twenty-two-year-old aspiring fashion designer, totally fictional, Mignonne LaChapelle, who ends up 'romantically involved' with the 40+ year-old well-recognized author and wartime pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who, although also fictional in the story, has a root in reality. Antoine, of course, is already married. But he is also conveniently estranged from the other key figure here, Consuelo, a Salvadoran knockout, who needs him.

So we have our typical love triangle set mostly in New York during World War II. On the other hand, there are other love interests involved: fame, honor, wealth, and independence.

How did I come to read this novel? Well, for one thing, it was a Vine offering, so I got it for free to review. But, beyond that, I was interested because of Antoine's work, THE LITTLE PRINCE, which I had received as a gift as a young man and read and enjoyed. Many have read and enjoyed THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry --- Wikipedia lists it in its list of best-selling books as number three, having sold approximately a 140 million copies. This book, I predict, won't go anywhere near there. But it will tag along with high hopes, a commercial venture attached to some promise of artistry to come from Szado.